Editor’s note: This is the sixth in a series previewing the Boise State football team by position. Coming Thursday: Wide receivers.
Boise State senior defensive tackle Antoine Turner didn’t dare rest this offseason.
Spring break? He worked out in Boise. Summer breaks? He worked out in Boise.
And that’s not because, as he said with a chuckle, he doesn’t really have a home to visit.
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He was looking at the depth chart and his own shortcomings and figured he couldn’t afford to miss a day.
“It’s no time to go play and try to have fun,” Turner said. “It’s too much competition on that D-line. It’s ridiculous how much competition they have on that D-line. You can easily lose your spot.”
The Broncos return all but one defensive lineman who played in the Fiesta Bowl. They add three seniors who were unable to play last season but could start this year — end Tyler Horn, tackle Tutulupeatau Mataele and nose tackle Justin Taimatuia — and a handful of redshirt freshmen who have pushed for playing time, led by stud end Jabril Frazier.
The group includes seven seniors and four juniors and could be legitimately three deep across the entire line.
“I expect a lot out of them,” defensive line coach Steve Caldwell said. “I tell them that every day. ... We know we’re going to be good. It’s going to be up to us.”
The starting four should be among the best in college football with senior end Tyler Horn, Mataele or Turner at tackle, senior Armand Nance or Taimatuia at nose and Mountain West sack champion Kamalei Correa at stud end.
The second wave features the two tackles who don’t start; junior end Sam McCaskill, who started 13 games at tackle last year; and junior stud end Gabe Perez, who has 14.5 tackles for loss in two seasons.
Even the third wave could be nasty with senior end Rondell McNair, who made a key sack in the Fiesta Bowl; junior Elliot Hoyte at tackle; senior Robert Ash or promising redshirt freshman Dereck Boles at nose; and Frazier at stud end.
Caldwell also liked redshirt freshman tackle David Moa’s play during fall camp.
“The combination of people stepping up and people coming back from injuries is going to be a big positive,” said Horn, who was injured in the season opener last year.
The depth is particularly appreciated by Caldwell, who was down to nine active linemen for the Fiesta Bowl. All of them made at least one tackle.
Caldwell entered fall camp with 20 linemen this season. He needed to scrounge up a couple extra chairs for his meeting room — and he added a 21st this week (Sawyer Shields of Eagle High).
“This is the first time I’ve ever been in this situation,” Caldwell said. “It’s really amazing. It’s a blessing this year but it’s going to be tough this time next year. I’ll be hiding from all of y’all.”
The difference between this year and last year is striking — and Turner is a perfect example. The Broncos were forced to rely on him last season as a JC transfer who arrived in the summer. Like most transfers, Turner struggled with the rigidity of the system.
He also was out of shape — he gained 20 pounds in three weeks when Boise State put him in a hotel because he was homeless at junior college, he said — and watched his playing time dwindle.
“It was because I didn’t really know the system,” Turner said. “I was kind of running around with my blindfolds on. It was big-time football and you’ve got to be in your gap when you’ve got to be in your gap. And when you’re not there, that hurts the defense. That hurts the team. I knew I wasn’t ready to be in that role.”
A year later, Turner is ready. He lost those 20 pounds, reduced his body fat and improved his conditioning.
And everyone in the Broncos’ top eight has extensive game experience except for the 27-year-old Mataele.
“We’re rallying in believing that our D-line can dominate anyone,” Turner said. “We’re still working. It’s still a process, but I think at the end of the day we’re going to be a dominant defense and we’re going to be able to get to the quarterback. I just pray that they know that we’re coming.”
NOTES: Mark Jones, Rod Gilmore and Quint Kessenich will call the Boise State-Washington game Sept. 4 on ESPN. ... Boise State has sold 21,362 season tickets, according to the school. That leaves 175 remaining.